How I Struggle With My Love-Hate Relationship For the Art World

Understanding and navigating the conflict between creating art and being part of the Art World is a timeless challenge worthy of investigating. The Art World can be classist, exclusionary and down-right mean. And still, the Art World can also highlight and reorient us to truth, beauty and expression.

It is crucial for the budding Artist to understand the classist undertones gatekeeping this elitist community.

Yes, it is great to experience Art behind closed doors within the framework of luxury museums and galleries.

AND it is just as important to keep the inner channel of Art open. 


When I speak of the Art World – I’m thinking of those galleries, museums, universities and installations frequented by people with ‘taste’. Those spaces where the patrons, curation and toilets have an air of self-importance and luxury. It’s an exclusive club for people with asymmetrical loose Japanese smocks and tall champagne flutes. 

But art isn’t exclusive. Beauty, art and mastery of technique is a wonder for all of us to dabble in. Experiencing art is a form of experiencing pleasure. We are beauty-oriented creatures. This proclivity for the beautiful is why we naturally gravitate to sunrises and sunsets. Why our bodies relax in a warm bath and delight in a stunningly laid plate. 

Looking at good beautiful art inside and outside of a museum is a birthright we get to have and enjoy. But how to BE in art spaces and ALSO be with the esoteric classist racist undercurrents which tell us in multitude of ways…we don’t belong?

Recently, I have found myself spending a lot more time in the West. One of the things I love about being in North America is access to art museums and galleries. I didn’t have a chance to see a lot of art when I was growing up. So now that I am here, I go out of my way to see contemporary, Indigenous and Western art. 


I’ve fallen in love with art museums. 

I’ve also fallen out of love with art museums

As an Artist, myself, I realize this is an important conflict to resolve. This article was written with a strong desire to find some kind of equilibrium and resonance in my strange relationship with this monolithic institution – The Art World. Yes, it is healing, helpful and opening. Yes, it can also be deeply problematic. 

Where do you stand? I’d love to know. Till then, let me paint a few pictures for you, first. 




It’s Mundane. It’s Violence. It’s a drill.

I’m standing in the Phoenix Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona, USA. In front of me are two massive screens placed at a right angle.

On one screen is a video of a tire. On the other, is a whirring drill. The drill is going through the black rubber tire. In and out. In and out. In and out. Destruction. This mundane act of a drill destroying old tires is now magnified by a thousand times on these large screens. It is now put on a pedestal; exhibited in its own room with two little couches for patrons. 

And now, this mundane act is our reality. It is in our heart and mind. Months later – it is still with me. The artist has taken something he felt and shared it with us.

The attention, care and pedestal he has placed it on has transformed this unimportant thing to be rather important.




3000 years ago somebody chewed on a Yucca branch.

I’m in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque in New Mexico, USA. In front of me there is a display of a clay pot and a single yucca needle. 

I know absolutely nothing about the history of clay in Native American heritage. I’m slowly learning the rituals, process and artistry. I read about going into the desert; digging for the red earth and dark dark leaves. I look closer and closer at the fine lines across the pot. Slanted, precise and human. This is handmade – even my untrained eye can detect the difference. 

I see the yucca needle and I put it together. Someone took a spine from a yucca plant and chewed on it to create the paint brush. 

Now, I’m looking at this pot so differently. My eyes slide to the small white square of text. This pot was created nearly 3,000 years ago.

3,000 years ago.

I stand back. Mouth agape with a sense of awe.

So, 3,000 years ago… somebody just like you and me was still filled with artistic inspiration. A need to create something beautiful. I love the Art World – because it reminds me we are born to create. We naturally orient towards The Beautiful. 




We just need to make Art. 

Our perennial artistic tendencies are part of who we are. This is so important for someone living in our crass post-industrial ‘productivity’ obsessed world. Growing up in the relatively young city of Dubai, I never did visit museums. It was only when I earned enough money to start traveling, I began to discover the joy of going to art museums and galleries. The more exposure I had to history and the more I remembered our soul’s eternal craving to create.

A few years ago, I went to London, UK. I went to as many galleries and museums as I could. I remember seeing all of the (looted) exhibits. In particular, I was enamored with the gold ornaments from the Middle East, dating back thousands of years. Hair pins and brooches. I kept pointing at the exhibits, saying: “Wow, I’d wear that!”

At one point, Sal, my friend, said to me – “You realize this isn’t a shop…”

We laughed, but that wasn’t the point. It was a realization and a reckoning. Being FACE TO FACE with the heritage of our collective ancestors, helped me realize this truth.  Our forefathers and mothers wore intricate pieces of jewelry; they took to the earth to recreate their likeness on pots and masks.

And we are STILL doing it today.

Art museums are reminders that we are all in a forever conversation with Art. With beauty. Whatever ‘beauty’ means to you. Beauty is what guides and lifts us. Beauty, thought, consideration, care and mastery. 

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to have extensive soul sucking jobs. Exhausting work is a horrible invention of our postindustrial imaginations. But this, this, this…art. This creating, this ritual, this observation. This careful conversation with the divine around us – this is perennial. This will continue long after we are dead. 




These people. These common people.

I’m at the Palm Springs Art Museum in California, USA. I’m looking at a Duane Hanson exhibit. He is an artist who makes freakishly life-like sculptures of the average common person. He has sculpted two individuals sitting on a bench. They look just like my parents… incredible and life-like. 

I squint. In the description, I read the phrase “these people”. 

I immediately STOP smiling.


Every one of my fears and suspicions about his esoteric classism is confirmed in his phrasing and othering of the ‘everyday people” he purports to be intrigued by. I know nothing of this artist – but I’ll never ever forget that moment. Looking at art makes me very happy, I walk around art exhibits with a smile on my face…but that phrasing stopped me in my tracks. The smile wiped off my face. I felt as if I had been slapped.



Curating an exhibition is a curious classist thing

So how did all these incredible pieces of art end up here in this gallery or museum? Over time, I bring consciousness and honor the process of curation. I also question it.

When I’m in a museum, I feel a sense of confidence and arrogance. Somebody, somewhere has seen a thing. They’ve made a thing. And now, with all the confidence and arrogance of an artist – a curator says, this thing is worthy of our attention. And so, they put the Thing on a pedestal. They cover the pedestal with folds of glass. They surround it with a circumference of space and dot it with three spotlights. 

Then they invite you to come look at it. This amount of care. This is the amount of deliberation. This makes me feel like – dayyyyyyum – this is a lot. 

I feel inspired by the level of self-importance.

I also feel conscious of the layers of social dynamics at play. 

  • Why is it that THIS person decides to put this thing on a pedestal? 
  • Who is he? 
  • What are his life experiences?
  • How does he see beauty in this thing? 
  • Why doesn’t he see beauty in this other thing?

And if THIS person can only see the beauty within the work of those who are like him or trained in that school of art closest to his experience… we have to question it. 

I wonder about HOW we are being trained to see beauty? Is a thing only beautiful when it is highlighted and curated? I get repulsed by this notion. In enjoying this beautiful art, I can’t help but feel a sense of separation. Art Museums – are ways to TAKE something out of its natural environment. Do we still have the ability to see beauty and curiosity outside of the pedestal and podium.

And while I may feel conflicted about this notion of taste… yeah, I love being in a well-tended space. I absolutely love it.



The Lady At the Film Festival

When I was in university I went to a screening at the Dubai Film Festival.

There was a woman who was moderating the discussion. She had a head full of gray white hair, neatly distributed into an asymmetrical bob. She was wearing a black blouse with a delicate silver shawl embroidered in tiny lavender accents. On her fingers were rings that were obvious to me in the audience but didn’t seem garish. 

I can still see her. Tilting her head with her face composed into this expression of contemplation. No doubt something intelligent and articulate was forming in her head. She was so sophisticated. Her aura, her demeanor, her attitude, her vocabulary, her energy – it was so alluring to me.

I sat there, watching and not really paying attention to anyone else. And from that moment, a desire to be like Her was planted in my heart. A “refined” white French lady in her fifties with stage presence. This woman in this moment is what the Art World is to me. This woman was the beginning of a lifelong admiration of and also hesitation of this world of access, privilege, artistry, intelligence and classism. 




The Art World.

It fills me up.

It frustrates me. 

I want to be part of it.

And I can be an Artist without external validation or approval. 



Eva writes about creativity, social justice, spirituality and feminism. She is a Pro-Justice storytelling coach who supports social justice conscious entrepreneurs, leaders & visionaries in speaking up after years of conforming and playing small.

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